The Footy Almanac 2007 Round 1 – Melbourne v St Kilda

The first printed edition of The Footy Almanac came out in 2007, before the website ever existed. In the absence of play in the 2020 season, we will be publishing the 2007 pieces for the first time ever on the internet. Enjoy!

 

 

Melbourne versus St Kilda

7.40pm, Friday, March 30

Melbourne Cricket Ground

 

JOHN HARMS

 

 

A SIMPLE MOMENT marks the climax of the AFL season. A team of ecstatic footballers, deeply satisfied, mill around the dais on the MCG, until the skipper and the coach are presented with the premiership cup. They raise it aloft to the cheers of their supporters. It is a poetic moment of pure joy, of hope fulfilled, of triumph. Teammates run to them.

 

The moment which starts the season is equally poetic. The despised umpire for a few seconds is high priest. He breathes life into the game. This season it is Steve McBurney.

 

As the players walk to their positions, the noise of the crowd rises. He takes the footy and wipes it on his chest. He looks around for the two captains and gets the nod. He gathers his thoughts. He holds the yellow ball aloft. There is a short pause, a moment of meditation. That moment contains the essence of footy: the expectation, the hope, the promise, the overwhelming feeling for the game we love. The siren sounds. He blows his whistle. And he takes those few steps to pound the Sherrin into the turf.

 

The opening minutes are manic. Players are flat out. As if the entire season is to be played in a quarter. They move in all directions. Lightning reactions. Lightning decision-making. Lightning handballs.

 

From where I stand, on the rail at ground level at the Punt Road end, it’s difficult to work out what’s happening. The teams trade scratchy behinds. As Melbourne break from their backline, Luke Ball bolts in to tackle. He is recklessly focused on his own intent; so recklessly that he fails to notice Matty Whelan’s imminent shepherd. The Demon backman picks him off. Ball is absolutely flattened. The divided crowd roars: one of those ooh-cheers that accompany a contentious moment.

 

Ball is groggy. It’s a textbook case of being in the hands of the trainers, his forehead gashed, his sense of geography severely compromised. Saints fans cry injustice. The Demons fans harbour a secret joy that one of their opponent’s finest may be gone for the duration.

 

Melbourne get on top early. David Neitz kicks the first goal of the season. The St Kilda players are puzzled. They are trying to implement some Roosean zone. They wonder whether they’re standing in the right place, whether they’re far enough apart. They point and look at the ground and hold out their arms. But Brad Green can still find a gap. He marks and goals, and when Matthew Bate finds Russell Robertson the Dees are three goals clear. “We’re getting smashed,” a Saints fan says to his mate (who is wearing a Geoff 5 Cunningham duffel coat).

 

The failure of the Saints’ zone becomes a blessing. Shortly after quarter-time, someone has yelled out, “Bugger it”, and the defensive pattern is abandoned.

 

They just play football instead. They hassle their Melbourne opponents mercilessly until the ball spills and Nick Dal Santo, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna and Ball (who returns bandaged) whisk the footy away. Brendon Goddard kicks long to position. And Fraser Gehrig dominates the front half.

 

The game is broken open. St Kilda forge ahead, and it takes a freakish Robertson goal – a kick while lying on his back in the pocket – to keep the Dees in touch. At half-time the Melbourne crowd is concerned.

 

St Kilda kick away in the third quarter. They keep attacking the footy and their opponents. The veteran recruit Doc Clarke plays an almost grandfatherly game: serviceable, sensible, reliable, and lovable. Matt Maguire, returning (at last) from a terrible broken leg, gives the backline structure, both observable and real, and imagined. He is clearly respected. At the other end, Gehrig is in control. The Saints are suddenly four goals up. When he marks again a fan screams: “The Train’s on fire”. And after another mark a textbook Austin Powers: “Yeah, baby”.

 

Melbourne supporters lose interest. They have expected to win, to make the top four, and to be worried about the MCC Grand Final ballot. For a while a couple of twenty-something blokes drink beer next to me. One is just back from London. He’s wearing a fawn suit and a lilac tie – and we’re in the outer. By time- on in the third quarter, he’s had enough. “This is crap,” he says of his Demons, and concentrates on telling good-old-boy stories of the South African glamour he’s met on the Bakerloo line.

 

It is clear St Kilda will win. Their pressure is relentless. Already some Dees fans are frustrated. They are quick to point out ineptitude. “You’re useless, Miller, you weak bastard,” a voice echoes off the tired Jimmy Adams photo in the empty undercroft. (It’s been hanging there since Neale Daniher was first appointed).

 

Many head home early. The umpires annoy those who remain. But you wonder how much that matters to Melbourne fans. A few dud decisions are like a series of unfavourable tax rulings.

 

A few face-saving goals help the score line but the Dees have been beaten comprehensively by a more determined team. Robert Harvey puts on a clinic in the final quarter.

 

The Saints sing their song. It has been an impressive victory.

 

The Dees fans trudge off reconsidering their Easter plans. The Melbourne Football Club, apparently, can do that to you.

 

 

Melbourne 4.3 6.3 6.5 9.8 (62)
St Kilda 2.7 7.7 11.12 13.15 (93)
GOALS  

St Kilda: Gehrig 4; Baker, Koschitzke 2; X. Clarke, Fiora, Goddard, McQualter, Har vey.

Melbourne: Neitz, Rober tson 3; Green, Bruce, White.

BEST St Kilda: Gehrig, Goddard, Hayes, M. Clarke, Koschitzke, Har vey, Maguire.

Melbourne: Moloney, Bruce, C. Johnson.

 

MILESTONES Hayes (St Kilda) 150 games;

White (Melbourne) 200 games with current club.

 

DEBUTS Attard, M. Clarke (St Kilda
UMPIRES McBurney, Stevic, Meredith.
BETFAIR ODDS Melbourne $1.66; St Kilda $2.45.
OUR VOTES Gehrig (St K) 3, Koschitzke (St K) 2, Goddard (St K) 1.
BROWNLOW Montagna (St K) 3, X Clarke (St K) 2, Gehrig* (St K) 1.

 

CROWD  49,490

 

If you want a copy of the 2007 edition of the Footy Almanac, they can be purchased here.

 

2007 Footy Almanac

 

 

 

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. One of the great book covers.

    And one of the great explanations of why this game MUST maintain the bounce of the ball.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Whatever happened to the traditional Melbourne v St Kilda game to start the season?

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